Pick a good day. Go to Arran. It has become trite to call it 'Scotland in miniature' but it's true. 'Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety', but in the shrunken mobility of age I wish I could do again the simplest of great hill-and-vale walks – simple but stupendous. Start from douce Brodick, amble up lonely Glen Rosa, exert yourself to mount The Saddle between Goatfell and the great mountains. It's not all that high (1,500 feet) but you feel just under the top of the world.
Pause in awe at Glen Sannox, unpack you lunch, then scramble safely down to the valley cloven from the heights, and relax on the long but peaceful walk home down to Corrie and the Firth. Then enjoy your tea back in Brodick. In western parts they never assume you'll have had your tea.
R D Kernohan
This may not be an especially original insight, but it strikes me that Scotland is a weirdly huge small country. So many places are remote without being distant. When I was growing up in South Ayrshire, we could see Jura from our tiny attic window. But try getting there and back in less than a week. I sometimes wonder (without making any value judgements) if this sense of disproportion encourages nationalist sentiment? Do we sometimes feel bigger than we actually are? I can drive, but I've never owned a car. So most of my journeys in Scotland have been firmly on the beaten track.
Nonetheless, I nurse a dream of renting a camper van and buying the time to spend a whole summer island-hopping – parking on beaches, cooking on open fires and waking up with the sea and the sky and a good book. Bliss. My favourite destination so far is Kildonan, at the southern tip of Arran. Secluded and always peaceful, it's a wonderful place for seal and otter watching – as long as you're willing to scramble over a few rocks. You also get a close-up of the lovely Pladda Lighthouse, which blinked away out in the darkness throughout my coastal boyhood.
Just over a decade ago, former head teacher from Stonehaven, Andy Hall, made an impact on many, myself included, when he used his photography hobby to produce two wonderful Mercat Press Ltd publications. 'A Sense of Belonging to Scotland' (2002) and the sequel, 'A Sense of Belonging to Scotland Further Journeys' (2005). No fewer than 106 of, as he describes, 'some of Scotland's best loved personalities' were asked to describe their favourite part of the country. Fascinating responses were received from figures such as Kaye Adams, Jackie Bird, Tam Cowan, Dougie Donnelly, Dr Winnie Ewing, Sir Alex Ferguson, Gavin Hastings, Sir Tom Hunter, Hazel Irvine, Calum Kennedy, Denis Law, Ally McCoist, Billy McNeill, Sally Magnusson, Colin Montgomerie, Michelle Monte, Annie Ross, Kirsty Wark, Jack Webster and Sir Ian Wood.
My own contribution to Andy's first publication referred to the island of Arran: 'As a teenager in the late 1950s, I spent many hours while on holiday playing golf on the attractive, hilly Lamlash Golf Course. Vivid in my memory are the sights from the vantage points on the course, particularly the first green and second tee. The view across to the Holy Isle and towards the Ayrshire coast is quite exquisite with Lamlash Bay, fuelling historical memories, in the foreground... In 1216, the Viking fleet assembled there before the Battle of Largs.... during the second world war the British fleet occupied the bay'.
Now, in the first week in June each year, the 'Two Island Swim' from Lamlash to Holy Isle, 1.9 miles each way, is one of the several modern day attractions in this part of Scotland, a location which provides me with a poignant reminder of my youth on the tranquil Island of Arran.
Well obviously there is only one place to go in Scotland this summer, and that is Orkney – a place so rich in natural beauty and ancient remains that the only risk you may encounter is the need to stay. Too late for the wonderful St Magnus Festival, which is in June, but if you want to get a taste of the riches of Orkney's ancient past, go to the extraordinary excavation at the Ness of Brodgar, where they are digging up a Neolithic palace, dating back to more than 3,000 BC, which makes Stonehenge look like an archaeological stripling. Incredible finds are being uncovered every year, and from 3 July to 21 August, visitors are given free guided tours during the dig season so they get a behind-the-scenes look.
There are five different structures, each with its different purpose, each yielding different treasures. One has the earliest example of pigmentation – individual stones painted red, yellow and orange, using a mixture of eggs and animal fats; another has finely-worked stone spatulas, resembling flattened spoons, made with great care – none of them show signs of wear and their purpose is unknown; another structure contained masses of grooved ware pottery, including some very large vessels, the oldest known in Britain. The style appears to originate from Orkney and radiate southwards. But by the time you read this they will doubtless have dug up more. Hurry.
St Magnus pilgrimage, Orkney
To counteract the mad narcissistic shouting of our times, go on a pilgrimage – a walking time of quiet reflection towards, or in, a place of inspiration. Iona is an obvious place/route, but there are many others. I would recommend the St Magnus pilgrimage in Orkney which opened this year to mark the 900th anniversary of the martyrdom of St Magnus.
for Highlands, Islands and North
for the East and Central
for the West and South